By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Two weeks ago, Mark Schultz was getting ready to go to work at the tavern he owns in the Wisconsin city of Oshkosh when he started to feel sweaty, achy and chilled.
Within days, the 64-year-old was in an intensive care unit at a local hospital fighting for his life.
Schultz, his 45-year-old fiance and his 10-year-old son are three of the 41,000 Wisconsinites who have tested positive for the virus over the last two weeks, according to state health officials.
“I want people to know this is real. This is not a hoax. It’s not fake news like the president said,” Schultz said.
Wisconsin has recently become an epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
On Friday, the state’s department of health services reported grim records as daily COVID-19 cases reached 3,861 and the seven-day average of new confirmed cases topped 3,000 for the first time.
“This virus is unbelievable what it does to people,” he said during a phone interview with Reuters on Friday from his home, four days after getting out of the hospital. “I literally thought I was taking my last breath. It’s like someone has a foot on your chest.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who traveled to Wisconsin to announce the opening of a new testing facility in Neenah, told a news conference on Friday that the state’s cases and positivity rate were heading in the “wrong direction.”
Despite the surge in cases in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump plans on Saturday to make a campaign stop in Janesville as he seeks to make up for time lost during his own bout with the coronavirus earlier this month.
“Wear a mask,” Schultz said to those who plan to attend. “There is so many unknowns with this thing. That is the scary part.”
For a second day in a row, the United States reported more than 60,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday as infections spike in all regions of the country, according to a Reuters analysis.
The United States reported over 63,000 new cases on Thursday and over 60,000 new cases on Wednesday, a level on back-to-back days not seen since late July and as total U.S. cases surpassed 8 million.
The surge in cases comes in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election. Trump has continued to minimize the threat to public health posed by the virus that has killed more than 217,000 Americans and 1 million globally.
The rise in U.S. cases is beginning to tax hospitals in some regions, with Wisconsin setting up a field hospital and reporting that in some areas more than 90% of hospital intensive care unit beds were filled as of Thursday.
The field hospital had yet to receive its first patient as of Friday morning, according to a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
Meanwhile in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said on Friday the state was increasing medical personnel and supplies as well as personal protective equipment for hospitals in Amarillo, Lubbock and surrounding counties, which are seeing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Deaths nationally remain fairly steady at 700 per day, but health experts caution fatalities are a lagging indicator that rise weeks after a surge in cases.
Deaths were already rising in several Midwest states over the past two weeks compared with the prior two-week period, including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting and writing by Maria Caspani in New York, editing by Cynthia Osterman)